Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit talks about what he calls “The Habit Loop” and explains that every habit is a three step process.

The first step is a trigger. A habit starts with a signal; something that triggers your brain to go into automatic mode. The next step is a routine (what we do, feel or think). The third and the last step of The Habit Loop is a reward. Your brain decides if the reward is big enough to keep the habit or not. But the problem is that the brain’s job is to satisfy a short-term goal.For example, let’s say your goal is to be healthier and lose weight. At lunch time, you find yourself at a place with great hamburgers. If you love hamburgers, your brain will do everything it can to satisfy your immediate desire and make sure you enjoy the hamburger now. It does not focus on your long term goal—to be healthier and lose weight.

This is the beginning of a Habit Loop. If you think carefully about any of the habits you have, you will recognize that there is always some kind of trigger—in this case it is the sight of the burger menu. Your brain then identifies the appropriate habit, and starts an automatic routine. This result is a reward—which in this case is a delicious lunch, even if that may not be what you really need. To make it clearer, let me explain three habits I have. In the following examples it is important to pay attention to each step of the process (trigger, routine, reward).

Physical habit loop

Every morning I exercise. When I hear my 5 AM alarm, it is a trigger for me to get up, go to my basement and get on the treadmill. The next step in this process is a routine. My routine is to do a 20 minute walk or run. The reward is that I feel really good after exercising—and who wouldn’t?

Emotional habit loop

After I finish exercising, I spend some time meditating. The trigger is the end of my run on the treadmill. After that, I sit on the floor, close my eyes, and try to stop thinking and just focus on my breathing. This calms me down and lowers my heart rate after an intense run. It also puts me in a peaceful mood and gives me a clean metal slate on which to work for the rest of the day. That’s a reward just by itself.

Thinking habit loop

Not all habits are practiced every day. Some are very occasional, but it doesn’t make them any less habitual. The first snow of each winter, for example, triggers a thinking habit that comes to me every year: memories of my childhood in Sarajevo. I spent a lot of time with my friends playing in the snow when I was a boy, and remembering those moments makes me happy. It’s just an occasional reward, but it happens every year.

Time In:

Think about some of your Habit Loops. What triggers your habits? What are your routines? And finally, what are your rewards?

About the author: Braco Pobric is the bestselling author and a founding member and Chief Happiness Officer of the Institute for Advanced Human Performance. He is Certified Positive Psychology Coach, Certified NLP Practitioner and former globally Certified Trainer and Coach for Dale Carnegie Training.Connect with Braco at:


‘We are the Positive Psychology People’

Find out more about positive psychology courses and training at 

Share This